The city of Fort Myers is looking to partner with one of the world’s largest real estate consultants to create a new vision for City of Palms Park, the centerpiece of the 240-acre area south of downtown known as Midtown.
At 4:30 p.m. at Monday’s city council meeting downtown, City Manager Marty Lawing will discuss with the council an amendment to a consultant agreement with CBRE. The real estate firm would take the lead in repurposing the 25 acres that include the former spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.
For now, Florida SouthWestern State College has been using the stadium for its junior college baseball and softball teams. The Red Sox used the ballpark from 1993 through 2011, after which it left for the Lee County-owned JetBlue Park.
The city has ownership of the land but also has a Sept. 22 deadline to take advantage of Lee County’s promise to pay up to $1 million for demolishing the stadium. Debt on the ballpark’s construction costs will be paid off by the end of next year, but it costs about $500,000 a year to maintain the facility.
CBRE is an international real estate firm with more than 500 offices in more than 100 countries. The company sent an eight-page plan and letter to the city Dec. 23. The city would pay CBRE $5,000 a month for consulting services to attract developers and businesses to re-envision the land.
CBRE also included its fees: 3% on a project value of $10 million-$20 million; 2% on a project value of $30 million-$50 million and 1.50% on a project totaling $100 million or more.
The bigger and more dense the project, the more money CBRE would pocket.
“Let’s start with CBRE,” said Stan Stouder, founding partner of CRE Consultants. Stouder spent 12 years working under the CBRE umbrella before co-founding his own real estate brokerage firm. “They are the world’s largest real estate firm. It’s a dominant, global, commercial real estate brand. Yet most people outside of that practice, don’t know who they are.”
CBRE has roots in the U.S. dating back to 1906 in San Francisco. It once was part of Coldwell Banker. Various mergers brought them together with Richard Ellis, a London-based firm that has roots dating back to the late 1700s, according to CBRE’s website. This created the CBRE acronym in the late 1990s.
“They have an immense depth of service,” Stouder said. “When we were CBRE, we did some evaluation on every single piece of property. We inventoried everything the city owned. We did an estimate of value for the downtown marina, the Fort Myers Country Club, etc. They don’t have more services, per se, than CRE, but they are much deeper than we are. Let’s say I’ve got three offices, they’re going to have 15 offices.
“I don’t think they bring more intelligence. I think they bring bigger depth.”
With the city paying CBRE $5,000 a month, the real estate consultants would be handed the keys to redeveloping the ballpark.
That’s where the debates begin.
The seven-member city council’s members have different ideas for what the area could look like.
Council member Lin Bochette, a former Olympic athlete, could see repurposing the stadium, drawing high school games of the week and other sporting events, for example.
“It produces revenue as a municipal stadium,” Bochette said. “That’s a model we need to look at, and we’ll be looking at it. We also have the Florida Sports Foundation in Tallahassee. They can be a source of feedback.
“We also would have a place for professional people. That would drive more restaurants, and it could become another city hub.”
Council member Fred Burson also likes the idea of keeping the offices once used by the Red Sox and updating them, attracting more jobs to that area.
“I would like to save the stadium portion of City of Palms,” Burson said. “It could be office or retail or whatever. It’s still in pretty good shape.
“If they could save that portion of the stadium, we can build something else around it. We can create some synergy between downtown and the south end. Hopefully the development community would come together and fill in what’s in between.”
But Burson, a long-time supporter of area youth baseball, has backed away from keeping the fields for baseball anymore.
“The stadium seating isn’t really of any economic use,” he said. “The fields would be either park space or green space. I would like to see that be a type of park space and build around it. I’m a baseball guy. But the reality is I don’t see any economic viability of keeping it.”
Hiring CBRE would place the real estate company in the driver’s seat for redoing Midtown’s centerpiece.
CBRE declined to comment until after Monday’s meeting. City Manager Marty Lawing also declined an interview opportunity.
“I could see that becoming a common area for the Midtown,” Stouder said. “I’ not saying Central Park, but it could be a very, naturalized, softening, space for what could be high-density development around it. It could be a nice amenity. A walking area. You could do a lot of things that are symbiotic with a Midtown vision.”